Oregon Republicans Say They'll Return For 1 Day, Democrats Decline
Oregon Republicans say they’re willing to return to the Capitol on Sunday after more than a week in hiding. But they have some conditions.
In a move that is certain to be unpalatable to the majority Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertstchiger and House Minority Leader Christine Drazan said Thursday they are open to attending floor sessions on March 8 — the session’s constitutional deadline — to pass a series of budget bills.
In a statement, Baertschiger, R-Grants Pass, highlighted budget priorities like flood relief money for Umatilla County as things he and his caucus are willing to come back and pass. Given the delays built into the legislative process, passage of those bills would require the suspension of rules in order to introduce and vote on them in a single day.
“The intent of the short session was to make budget adjustments, and that is what we expect to work on while being fiscally responsible with the hard-earned taxpayer dollars,” Baertschiger’s statement said.
In a separate statement, Drazan indicated House Republicans would only be willing to grant limited rules suspension.
“House Republicans will provide a quorum and the rules suspensions necessary to pass these funding priorities on Sunday, March 8th, before the legislature is constitutionally required to adjourn.”
Democrats have indicated since last week that such an arrangement would not be welcome if Republicans returned to the fold. While Senate Republicans scored major bill concessions during two walkouts last year, Democrats say they are no longer willing to barter.
“This is exactly the type of picking winners and losers that we have made clear we are not interested in doing,” Lisa Taylor, a spokeswoman for Senate President Peter Courtney, said after Baertschiger issued the statement.
Earlier this week, Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek issued a joint statement that read in part: “We will not be part of closed-door negotiations or last-minute deals. We will not pick and choose which bills will live and which bills will die.”
Republicans in the Senate and House launched a walkout last week in order to block Senate Bill 1530, Democrats’ signature climate change bill. The proposal would institute a cap-and-trade system in Oregon, creating a declining cap on the state’s greenhouse gas emissions and forcing many polluters to pay for a portion of their emissions.
SB 1530 is awaiting a second reading in the Senate, a procedural step that comes before an actual vote on the floor. Without any action today – and no suspension of ordinary rules – the bill cannot pass both chambers by the Sunday deadline.
Baertschiger’s announcement was unsurprising. He told OPB on Wednesday night his caucus had discussed the possibility of returning for a single day, but said they had not taken a formal vote.
“Cap and trade is done tomorrow,” Baertschiger said at the time. “It’s finished. So then you say, ‘Now what? Do we want to pass budgets?’”
Baertschiger suggested it would take his members “two or three days” to get back to the statehouse, saying “some of these people go a long ways.” He said Republicans would refuse to return any earlier than Sunday.
“It’s a one-day session,” he said. “If [Democrats] want to get anything done, it’s gonna be done in one day. You’re not gonna pass 140 bills in one day.”
Leading Democrats have said repeatedly that they would only concede to such an abbreviated time frame if Republicans agreed to suspend the rules around every bill. That would give the Legislature the ability to pass the cap-and-trade bill, new gun control provisions, and dozens of other policy proposals that have stalled in the walkout.
"The only deal I will agree to is if Republicans in both chambers return and agree to take a floor vote on every bill that has earned support through the public process that governs our legislative body," Kotek said Thursday.
Outstanding budget priorities lawmakers had hoped to pass this session include hundreds of millions of dollars for housing and homelessness, wildfire prevention, and expanding behavioral health care. Not all of that money is encapsulated in the suite of budget bills Republicans are proposing to take up Sunday. Some housing money, for instance, is allocated in separate policy bills.
Unmentioned in Thursday’s statement from Drazan was another impending deadline. House Democrats have issued subpoenas to 21 Republicans, demanding that they appear before a committee at 1 p.m. on Thursday. It’s unclear whether any Republicans will comply.
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